DeMar DeRozan’s roller coaster of a season has given him the opportunity to grow and mature on the court.
The talented shooting guard began the season by averaging a robust 23 points per game over his first six games, showing the kind of perimeter shooting that would keep opposing teams honest. But in January, DeRozan suffered through a rough stretch where he averaged 14.1 points while shooting a miserable 36.7% from the field.
The first half of this season amounted to one giant tease as DeRozan showed glimpses of his potential only to disappear for quarters or even entire games. He had games where he showed signs of becoming an elite scorer when he scored 29 points against San Antonio, dropped 27 on New Jersey and another 25 versus Golden State. Those scoring binges were tempered by games where he only managed three points against New Jersey and three games where he finished with a total of four points (Phoenix, Memphis and Cleveland).
“I just can’t think about it too much,” DeRozan admitted to the media back in February. “I look at a lot of other players in the league who are great shooters and they’re struggling, too. I don’t know what has caused it. You can blame it on the lockout or whatever it is. It just is what it is right now. My shot is eventually going to fall and when it does a lot of things are going to change.”
For DeRozan, a small tweak has resulted in big changes in his game.
There were plenty of games back in February and even early March where DeRozan’s disgust over not getting calls could easily be seen from my perch up on the gondola at the Air Canada Centre. Whenever he was unable to draw the foul call he would revert to settling for jumpers or fade into the background on offence.
Now, he’s attacking defenders and almost daring them to foul him. If defenders don’t commit the foul he finishes with a strong move for an easy bucket.
DeRozan’s ability to “body hunt” has lead to more free throws and the realization that he can get 20 or more points against any team in the NBA with relative ease.
“I just told him those free throws were huge,” Casey raved after the recent win against Boston. “That’s what it’s all about going forward. I’ve been on him about once he gets to the rim he needs to finish. He needs to be greedy. Don’t just be happy because you get the whistle. Finish and get the ‘and one’ like you watched their veteran players. They don’t quit playing; they concentrate even harder once they hear the whistle. That’s the next evolution in DeMar.”
This evolution has seen him score 20 or more points in five games this month while averaging 17.9 points per game.
“My confidence is definitely high,” DeRozan boasted to me. “My mindset going into each game right now is to just be aggressive and take whatever comes out of that. Getting to the free throw line. Lay-ups. Whatever the defence gives me I’m going to take.”
His confidence has resulted in him turning into a vocal leader. With new additions like Alan Anderson and Ben Uzoh getting extended minutes, DeRozan has stepped up by barking out orders and pointing to where they need to be on the court.
Granted, part of this leadership on the court is due to Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless being out and the team not having an established floor general, but it’s great to see DeRozan start to assert himself on the court during stretches when he’s not scoring.
“He has been solid,” Casey stated. “He has really shown a lot of fight and he has shown that he is thinking about the game. He’s reading screens. He’s reading situations. Teams are putting their best guys on him. They committing almost two guys to him on pin downs, but he’s doing a great job of reading his options. He’s mixing it up and getting to the free throw line instead of settling for jump shots. I’ve seen a lot of growth in him this year as a player.”
The key for DeRozan moving forward is building upon his success at the end of this season and not seeing any regression at the start of next season.